A site-specific literature review of policy and environmental interventions that promote physical activity and nutrition for cardiovascular health: what works?

Am J Health Promot. Jan-Feb 2005;19(3):167-93. doi: 10.4278/0890-1171-19.3.167.


Objective: To review the literature to determine whether policy and environmental interventions can increase people's physical activity or improve their nutrition.

Data sources: The following databases were searched for relevant intervention studies: Medline, Chronic Disease Prevention File, PsychInfo, Health Star, Web of Science, ERIC, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Study selection: To be included in the review, studies must have (1) addressed policy or environmental interventions to promote physical activity and/or good nutrition; (2) been published from 1970 to October 2003; (3) provided a description of the intervention; and (4) reported behavioral, physiological, or organizational change outcomes. Studies that had inadequate intervention descriptions or that focused on determinants research, individual-level interventions only, the built environment, or media-only campaigns were excluded.

Data extraction: We extracted and summarized studies conducted before 1990 (n = 65) and during 1990-2003 (n = 64).

Data synthesis: Data were synthesized by topic (i.e., physical activity or nutrition), by type of intervention (i.e., point-of-purchase), and by setting (i.e., community, health care facility, school, worksite). Current studies published during 1990-2003 are described in more detail, including setting and location, sample size and characteristics, intervention, evaluation period, findings, and research design. Findings are also categorized by type of intervention to show the strength of the study designs and the associations of policy and environmental interventions with physical activity and nutrition.

Conclusions: The results of our review suggest that policy and environmental strategies may promote physical activity and good nutrition. Based on the experimental and quasi-experimental studies in this review, the following interventions provide the strongest evidence for influencing these behaviors: prompts to increase stair use (N = 5); access to places and opportunities for physical activity (N = 6); school-based physical education (PE) with better-trained PE teachers, and increased length of time students are physically active (N = 7); comprehensive work-site approaches, including education, employee and peer support for physical activity, incentives, and access to exercise facilities (N = 5); the availability of nutritious foods (N = 33), point-of-purchase strategies (N = 29); and systematic officer reminders and training of health care providers to provide nutritional counseling (N = 4). Further research is needed to determine the long-term effectiveness of different policy and environmental interventions with various populations and to identify the steps necessary to successfully implement these types of interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / diet therapy
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Environment*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Health Promotion / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • United States